City safer because of fire technicians

Unionized positions are being credited for a drop in calls

Fire safety technician Mike Larsson practises with the jaws of life on a donated car in the parking lot of the Pitt Meadows fire department.

The Pitt Meadows Fire Department credits the hiring of two unionized firefighters for making the city safer, citing their addition for a drop in calls involving burning complaints and false alarms.

Responsible for fire prevention, education and maintaining equipment, the fire safety technicians have taken those tasks away from the department’s paid on-call volunteers.

“The volunteers can now focus the time they spend away from their families on calls and training,” said fire chief Don Jolley.

The first fire safety tech was hired in the summer of 2009 and the second in fall 2010. Both work during business hours Monday to Friday.

“They add to our contingent of firefighters during the weekdays when we typically have the lowest number of volunteers available because most of them are at work,” said Jolley.

The technicians have helped educate farmers about burning and residents about the risk of grass fires, leading to a significant drop in those calls.

Jolley projects the city should log 25 burning complaints this year, compared to 60 in 2010. The department has also seen a 30 per cent increase in applications for burning permits, which shows that people are ready to comply with the rules, despite the associated costs.

The technicians have also freed up assistant chief Brad Perrie, who used to handle education, but now has more time to conducted inspections.

“What we are finding is [Perrie] has been able to deal with a lot of issues that were compounding. Now our false alarms are down and fires are down in buildings. The public is acting safer,” Jolley said.

“The community is safer and that’s always a positive thing.”

In a recent report to city council, Jolley noted the department’s transition from a volunteer model to a paid on-call model in January has been seamless.

Previously, an annual grant of $210,000 was paid by the city to volunteer firefighters, who divided it up themselves, according to hours worked.

The paid on-call model eliminated the grant and firefighters who attend a call or training are now paid a wage hourly.

It meant a $50,000 increase to the department’s million-dollar budget.

“There have been next to no differences internally and outwardly,” Jolley said. “To the public, there has been absolutely no difference.”

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